Should Every Pastor Get a Sabbatical?

Pastors aren’t the only tired ones out there. Churches teem with people who are working demanding jobs that offer no extended periods of paid leave. Are pastoral sabbaticals necessary, then? Are they even fair?

According to Bob Doll, chief equity strategist and senior portfolio manager at Nuveen Asset Management, the answer is yes. “The stresses and strains of dealing with people—with souls—wears you down in a unique way,” he observes. Besides, he notes, even some companies in the secular world are starting to use sabbaticals. “They realize that refreshment makes a better employee.”

“Pastors need rest of all kinds, not just waiting for ‘the big one,'” adds Kelly, pastor of Desert Springs Church in Albuquerque. A strategic rhythm of work and rest, then, is vitally important.

“In the ministry, the unusual is routine,” says Phillips, pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina. “Experienced ministers know you’ve got to plan for rest.”

Watch the full nine-minute roundtable video to see these leaders—two pastors and a businessman—discuss sabbatical frequency, when work and family lines blur, and more. Later this month, March 14 to 16, Phillips will be speaking at TGC’s Southwest regional conference, Clarus, hosted at Kelly’s church in Albuquerque.

Sabbatical from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

  • EricP

    Can we get transcripts for videos?

  • MN MD

    I have worked in a busy emergency room for 15 years. I would say there are similar “unique” stresses. Dealing with people, life and death, seeing the sad result of the fall and sin on a daily basis. Yet, I never get a sabbatical. I have often wondered why pastors get extended paid vacation when the rest of their congregation does not. Do we need to do a better job at making sure they take advantage of their normal vacation time and have shorter breaks so they don’t burn out?

  • TR LPN

    There are similar stresses in the medical field, yes. And to come into this discussion as both a nurse and the wife of a youth pastor (bi-vocational no less), I have to look at this as why only the senior pastors? And why don’t more companies use this more often in the “secular” work place. I like the idea of more frequent breaks for ministry staff. Yes we in the medical field can deal with many similar stresses, but as staff, it goes beyond then initial dying or the initial divorce, or the initial suicide attempt. Pastors are there still dealing with the aftermath. I have also seen this abused by pastors. Where there have been more vacation time than pulpit and serving time on the “sabbatical” ticket. I’m afraid I’m not much help on this, just seeing both sides with no full answer.

    • EricP

      High tech companies give sabbaticals. I think most people would benefit from them. By the end of a normal two week vacation, I’ve just barely gotten out of work mode. After a month off, you can really get perspective on what you are doing and if it is worth it.

  • E

    As the wife of a pastor, I whole heartedly agree!! But, we are in a small church, for 3+ years now & my husband pastored in another small church for 7 years before this church…no sabbatical here, even though it’s been well over 10 years of full-time ministry!
    And, what about the small church pastor of UNDER 200 members? What happens with them…no assistants, no secretaries, just him? I would really urge you to PLEASE, maybe offer some of these type of pastors (& I’ll guarantee there are more of them out there than you think!) some solutions, some practical ideas of what they can do to stay refreshed & renewed…especially when they are speaking 20-30 weeks in a row without a Sunday off?? There is such a fine line as to when the pastor himself has to step in & ask for those Sundays off…but in my experience, when that time comes sometimes it’s too late & there is some burn out?
    But may you be a bit more mindful, for future posts, of the small church pastor!!!

  • Mike

    Brothers, as a Pastor, I have another FT position and can I empathies on one side, but also work 40+ hours at a very high stress position (non-church position), come home, and prep for teaching/leading varying ministries throughout the week, contacting people… Part of me says, if I can work another job and still teach weekly, welllllll…… its hard to empathize beyond a normal vacation.

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  • Brandon

    The “washout” rates in ministry demands a better explanation than that pastors generally like to be coddled, and have a lower work ethic than everybody else, and thus like sabbaticals.

    It would be interesting to get feedback from former pastors who left ministry because of the stresses of it, and took up other jobs. How do the stress and fatigue levels compare?

    Personally I would say, even in smaller churches, the sheer volume of information that congregations expect their pastor to master in a brief period of time and then deliver engagingly on Sunday is almost obscene. Giving pastors some time to ‘reload’ theologically before a demanding year of ministry seems highly helpful for both pastor and congregation.

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  • Dave

    We all work hard wearing multiple hats. One way or another we all have souls whom we are responsible. Secular work presents an enviroment that is difficult to maintain a nonspoken and spoken witness at the same time.
    I take my lead from Jesus as to taking lengthy time off. The harvest is ripe and the workers are few. Does not sound like a vote for a sabbatical.

  • Trevor Minyard

    I’d like the panelists to respond on the frequency of ALL staff (janitors to the preacher) receiving these extended vacations.